Betty Sondheim studied the fresh-baked apple pie in her shopping cart and wondered what in the world was happening to her.
The golden-colored filling looked rich enough to be called buried treasure, the way it was artfully folded under all that flaky crust. And the bottom of the tin was still deliciously warm: No doubt the pie had just been baked that morning by Arleen Raider, who had won White Pine’s most recent Fourth of July dessert contest. Even now, she caught a glimpse of Arleen behind the Lumberjack Grocery’s bakery counter piping frosting onto cakes, her experienced hands moving with graceful ease.
This pie was going to be delicious. Arleen’s pies were always delicious.
So why did Betty suddenly want to throw the whole tin across the room and never touch another bite ever again?
Audrey Callaghan rolled her cart next to Betty’s. “Get everything you needed?” her friend asked. The pair were picking up a few extra items for that evening’s Knots and Bolts recipe exchange. Betty would never bring a store-bought pie to a recipe exchange, but she would bring one home to her husband, Randall Sondheim.
“I just need to grab some cream of tartar, then I’m done,” she said. She eyed the pie warily as she spoke. Sometimes she and Randall had Arleen’s pies with their coffee in the morning, sitting in their sun-soaked kitchen and appreciating the fact that life was too short to always eat dessert last.
She took a breath as her heart thudded, thinking of Randall and how lucky they were to have each other. Arleen’s pies were more than just dessert—they were a symbol of all that was good between them.
Her stomach roiled and she nearly dropped the tin.
So why did she feel like what was good between them suddenly made her sick?
Audrey reached out and grabbed Betty’s elbow. “Are you okay? You look pale.”
Betty set the pie back down. “I’m—I’m fine. I just don’t think I should be buying this right now. We’re trying to watch our waistlines.”
She swallowed, hating the lie but not knowing what else to say. Because deep down was the sudden realization that maybe this wasn’t about pie at all. Maybe this was about something much more exciting. And terrifying.
She forced herself to smile at Audrey, whose lovely brown eyes were watching her carefully.
“You go on and check out,” Betty said. “Let me grab the last of what I need and I’ll meet you up front.” The two women were slated to return to Betty’s when they were done at the store, to prep their food for that evening. Betty was supposed to show Audrey how to make homemade strudel dough, though her brain was so scrambled at the moment that she wasn’t sure how she could brown toast, never mind tackle anything more complicated.
“All right,” Audrey said hesitantly. “I’ll be right up front. If you’re not there in five minutes, I’m coming to find you.”
Betty waved her off. “I’m fine. Go get one of those Hollywood magazines you like and read about the latest plastic surgery fiascos until I get there.”
Audrey smiled and headed for the front. Betty pushed her cart away from the bakery section, telling herself she was making a big deal out of nothing. Right? The fact that she didn’t want the pie didn’t mean anything else was going on.
And yet there was a fluttering in her stomach that she couldn’t lock down. She clutched the top of the cart more tightly and steered it through the store, trying to get to the spice and baking aisle as quickly as possible. But her steps slowed when her eyes landed on the aisle with toilet paper and toothpaste and…something else.
She turned her cart and stopped in front of a small row of white boxes.
She gripped the cart until her knuckles were white. That couldn’t be it, could it?
It would explain the pie anyway. And why couldn’t it be possible? She and Randall had started trying, after all. It’s just that it had only been…well, barely a few weeks. She’d figured that it would take months, maybe even years, since she was approaching her mid-thirties. But maybe her ovaries were as impatient as the rest of her tended to be.
She glanced around to see if Audrey was anywhere nearby. When the coast was clear, she grabbed one box—then another—and stuffed them into her cart under a bag of spinach.
She steered toward the front of the store, wondering how she was ever going to check out without Audrey seeing the tests. Not that she didn’t want to tell her friend. It’s just that their other friend Willa was pregnant and due in another few weeks, and she wanted Willa to have the spotlight to herself for as long as possible. And who knew if Audrey was trying now, too, what with her recent marriage to Kieran Callaghan and the dazed-in-love look she wore most days.
Betty knew spilling news about babies and pregnancy could be complicated. Women had funny reactions to it all sometimes.
She took a steadying breath. Bigger than all that, though, was the fact that she wanted to tell Randall everything first. She wanted to pull her husband close and feel his strong arms around her, and have it be just their secret. For a time anyway.
If she even was pregnant.
It was a huge if. After all, everything she was feeling could be indigestion. Gas. Heartburn from all that spicy chili she’d made earlier in the week.
Audrey waved as Betty approached the checkout. Audrey’s wedding ring glinted under the bright store lights. Her shopping bags were resting on the floor by her feet. And now, standing next to Audrey, was her sister, Casey, who’d just moved to town recently. Snow fell gently outside the windows facing the grocery store parking lot, blanketing the blacktop in white.
“Look who I found!” Audrey said, bumping her sister with her shoulder.
“Looks like we’re all here trying to get ready for tonight’s recipe exchange.”
“Hi, Casey,” Betty said, trying to sound like it was a regular Thursday afternoon and she didn’t have two pregnancy tests shoved into the bottom of her cart. “You settling into town okay?”
“So far so good,” Casey said, looking like a carbon copy of Audrey—but with more beige in her wardrobe. She shifted the bags in her hands. “The job is great, and I’m unpacking slowly but surely. Audrey here tells me you’re teaching her to make strudel.”
“That’s just it,” Betty said, turning to Audrey. “I’m, ah, not feeling so hot, and I think you’d better just drop me off at home. Sorry about that, but maybe we can do the strudel next week.”
Audrey nodded sympathetically. “It’s absolutely fine. Let’s get you into bed. You looked like you were going to pass out back there in the bakery.”
“Maybe you could pull the car around?” Betty asked, eyeing her items again. She didn’t want to put them on the conveyor belt in front of her friend. “I’d appreciate it.”
“Of course,” Audrey said. “I’m all checked out. It’s no problem.”
Audrey gave her sister a quick hug. “See you later, Casey.”
Casey opened her mouth to answer, then closed it sharply. Her golden brown eyes widened and she swallowed visibly. Betty and Audrey followed her gaze to a nearby end cap of cereal, where a tall, broad-shouldered man was checking out nutrition labels. He picked up a box and frowned at the small print, the cardboard seeming small and flimsy in his massive hands.
Betty realized it was Abe Cameron, their local fire lieutenant.
As if he knew he was being watched, Abe turned around and spotted the cluster of ladies. He nodded and smiled at them, teeth flashing bright white. His gaze lingered for a few long moments. Was it Betty’s imagination, or were his eyes locked onto Casey’s?
Next to her, Casey stiffened. Nervous energy was radiating off her. There was a crackle in the air Betty couldn’t hear—but she could sure feel it. After a long moment, Abe broke the stare and turned away. But Casey’s eyes kept tracking on Abe, even as he pushed his cart away, down toward the frozen food section. And no wonder. His ass was gloriously tight and high as he walked along.
“Some view,” Betty said. “I bet you could bounce a quarter off those cheeks.”
Audrey chuckled. “Casey looks like she could watch him leave all day.”
Casey blushed so red, Betty swore she could feel heat from the poor girl’s face.
“Next,” the cashier said, jolting them all out of their fireman reverie.
“I’ll get the car,” Audrey said, grabbing her bags and fumbling for her keys.
“I’ll join you,” Casey said, tearing her eyes away from the retreating form of Abe. “I’m all set here, too.”
Betty let out a small breath, watching them go. She unloaded her cart quickly, shoving the pregnancy tests on the belt between some clementines and oatmeal, her foot tapping out a steady rhythm on the floor. Now that the idea of being pregnant was in her head, all she wanted to do was to find out for sure—one way or another. Gray areas never sat well with her. Finally, she paid the cashier, then bundled everything into her canvas shopping bag.
Outside, Audrey pulled up to the front doors, and Betty dashed through the falling snow to meet her. She pulled the car door shut against the cold and kept her shopping bag clutched on her lap. Drive fast, she begged Audrey silently as her friend pulled away from the Lumberjack Grocery and toward home.
* * * *
Twenty minutes later, Betty was standing in her bathroom staring at the white stick on the edge of the sink. Her eyes prickled with tears. A roar sounded in her ears, loud enough so that she almost didn’t hear Randall knocking on the door.
“Betty, are you all right? I got your message. What’s going on?”
She could picture him just on the other side of the door in his black button-down shirt, his jeans fitting snugly against his strong, muscular legs. Her heart pounded.
“Betty? Let me in, sweetheart.”
She reached for the door with shaking hands. Her mind raced. What on earth was she going she say to him? She’d asked him to leave his office at the church and come home, but now that he was here, she had no idea how to pull out the words stuck in her throat.
The minute the door was cracked, he swept in and pulled her to his chest. She relished the heat of it, the feel of him against her—strong and safe like always.
“Are you all right?” he asked, running his hands down her arms, his gray eyes sweeping over her body as if to check for injury. A lock of his thick, dark hair dropped onto his forehead. She pushed it back, loving how the silky strands felt against her fingers.
“I’m fine,” she managed. Except she wasn’t fine. She was reeling. From fear. From excitement. From too many emotions to even label.
“What’s the ma—” He stopped, his eye catching the white stick next to the sink. His face paled. The bathroom was silent, except for the occasional plink of drops from the faucet. Betty had meant to get the leaky thing fixed. She just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
Randall cupped her face in his hands. He turned her so she had full view of his straight, fine nose, his sharp gray eyes, and his strong chin. The air caught in her throat. Even now, he was handsome enough to take her breath away.
“Are you…” His Adam’s apple worked. He was struggling for words. “Darling, are we pregnant?”
The ache in her chest was almost too much. She tried to steady her ragged breathing. As she fought her lungs, she could suddenly picture the reason they were here to begin with, standing together in this bathroom under the too-bright fluorescent lights.
She could picture the banner. The fall sun sparkling down. And the fiasco that had started it all.
If she wasn’t struggling for breath, she would have begun laughing.